Copper Pot Chicken Co.
65 N. Village Ave., Rockville Centre
SERVICE: Young, warm and friendly
AMBIENCE: Laid back with an air of cheekiness
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Saturday noon to 10 p.m., Sundays noon to 9 p.m. No parking lot. Take out.
If the burger is the stalwart of today’s upscale casual menu, then fried chicken is its trusty teammate.
The oil-crackled bird is in the midst of a haute moment, pecking away at its calorie-conscious grilled breast foe, as high-minded cooks look for ways to raise their comfort food game.
This is the stage on which chef Art Gustafson is performing in Rockville Centre’s newly opened Copper Pot Chicken Co. It’s a fried chicken joint that offers a strikingly long menu of comfort fare from barbecue to hummus.
To get here, Gustafson toured the best-rated fried chicken spots in Manhattan in search of inspiration. He settled on breasts, legs, wings and thighs that are bathed in a 24-hour brine of orange peel, apple, tea bags, juniper berries and star anise, then coated in a dry mix of matzo meal, potato starch and flour.
The pieces are finally dusted in a reddish spice mix that the chef says he would rather keep secret, and crisped to order in a twice-fried method that Gustafson says he plucked from celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s playbook.
The technique calls for frying once at 325 degrees to render the fat and begin the crisping process. The bird then rests for a few minutes before a second bath at 350 degrees for a hard crisp.
As Gustafson tells it, he served his creation in swanky copper pots as a special one fall night at his steakhouse Chadwicks American Chop House & Bar, and sold more birds than any other dish that night. A concept for his fourth Rockville Centre eatery was hatched. (He also owns Tony Colombos Italian Bistro and Salsa Mexicana Kitchen & Cocktails.)
Copper Pot is a tiny urban bar and restaurant around the corner from the village LIRR station, its 40 seats crammed into a festive space with a cheeky vibe, including a mirror scrawled with a blush-worthy, “If they only want legs, breasts & thighs, send them to C.P.C.”
The only copper pots here hang on the walls, but the chicken is the standout when the kitchen gets it right. The result is a crackerlike crust that gives way to juicy, flavor-packed meat, dark and white.
When it comes to consistency, getting the chicken right on two out of three visits is not enough, especially when four pieces with one side and a biscuit is $16.95 before tax and tip. My less-than-stellar excursion included meat that was begging for salt and a crust that was slightly burned.
As for the rest of the menu, the supporting cast is equally mixed. Biscuits are buttery but sometimes too dense. Mac-and-cheese is enjoyably creamy, cheesy and deviously topped with a crumbled Cheetos crust. The slaw here is dubbed “super food,” a mix of more traditional cabbage with today’s hippest of leaves: shredded kale and Brussels sprouts.
House-made potato tots are crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle, even better as an appetizer of “loaded disco tots,” finished poutine-like with brown gravy, scallions, two kinds of melted cheese and a crown of shredded pot roast.
Other standouts include bacon candy, thick slabs of jerky-like bacon coated in brown sugar and black pepper, and the fried pickle chips, a mix of battered sweet pickles and onions served with a shallot lime aioli, a nice change from more typical blue cheese or ranch.
Unfortunately, too much on the menu comes up short. A Cobb salad is mostly iceberg lettuce. A waffle with an order of chicken is soggy. Buns with burgers, sandwiches and sausages are stale. Ribs are tough, and while the biscuit nestled atop the chicken potpie is warm and flaky, the sauce in the pot is gloopy and starchy with a predominant taste of boxed chicken stock.
Classic desserts, which are all served with a scoop of chocolate or vanilla ice cream, do somewhat better, including a fluffy cheesecake, and a chocolate bourbon pecan pie with a slightly boozy finish.
When fried chicken is your game, a great recipe will only get you so far. The same attention needs to go into the preparation that went into the planning for Copper Pot to show its true backbone.